By Gabriel Neeb
Having received Eisner nominations for her work on Marvel’s HAN SOLO limited series and her series, MONSTERESS, Marjorie Liu was given a spotlight panel Friday at the San Diego Comic Convention.
Introduced by writer David Brothers, Liu began describing her upbringing which started in Philadelphia, moved to Seattle, attended college in Wisconsin where she earned a law degree, and then moved around a lot between China and Indiana to pursue writing.
She started working on paranormal romance novels, which didn’t pay so well. This kept her with family on a farm in Indiana and various parts of China because it made living affordable. Her family wanted her to end up as a doctor or lawyer and since she was really bad at math and chemistry, she ended up as a lawyer- the kind of career her family believed paid well.
It was however, unfulfilling and she began to cultivate her love of romance novels and focusing intently on writing 3000 words a day for 30 days. This produced the novel TIGER EYE. It took eight months before it finally sold to a publisher, but it did sell.
Her family hadn’t known about this effort and when finally informed her mother asked, “Well, what do you know about romance?” Although they were shocked and happy, they still pushed her for a law career and are convinced she’s destitute.
The entry into comics formed soon after. She wrote and published an X-Men tie in novel and was appreciated by Marvel. At the first New York Comic Con, she met with Marvel’s head of recruitment. She began with the title NYX and soon moved onto Dark Wolverine and most recently, the Han Solo mini series. All this without knowing how to write a comics script. She admitted she had to ‘google’ it when she started.
She was not into comics growing up and didn’t really get into comics until college and the first storyline she mentioned was the “Zero Tolerance” story from the X-Men in 1997. She even admitted to reading and writing some X-Men fan fic. She is not ashamed of this and emphasized that it served as a good way to practice for future work (her initial fan fics involved Cecilia Reyes, Beast, Marrow, Deadpool and Jubilee).
She eventually began a run in the title X-23. She felt the idea that the character was a female without her own agency, and that she was acquiescence to others, a feeling Liu said was common among teenage girls. X-23 was Liu’s build up of a character into one that had her own life and values against the isolation and distrust she felt internally.
Continuing along Liu’s career, her most significant work MONSTERESS arose. The book was born out of the frustration and desire to break away from the duties of Marvel scripting. The initial idea was, “What if a girl had a friend in Godzilla?”
Image Comics was receptive, and they left her and artist Sana Takeda alone creatively. Which works because MONSTERESS allowed her to take on the idea of “political fantasies” like beneficial colonialism, racism doesn’t exist, not all men…, and so many others that seem to occupy the sphere of discussion about family, race and gender. In Liu’s opinion, these are political fantasies that kill.
It allowed her to use geographic areas that don’t get used as much like North Africa and East Asia. Liu also made a quick digression to talk about her live for cats. Because, who doesn’t like cats?
Liu took time to praise Sana Takeda. She lives Sana’s character work and how the briefest description of emotions can get captured so well. All this, plus the incredible sense of design and space continually amaze Liu. Sana had thought she’d be out of comics after he work on X-23 and now she’s nominated for an Eisner. Working with Sana has been a dream.
The panel turned to the topic of travel, which Liu likes to do. Her approach to travel is to arrive in a city, and then get lost for the first twelve hours, and then do all the things she’d planned to do. Not knowing where she’s going is freeing.
The last formal part of the panel was a discussion on the different between comics and novel writing. Comics involving a lot of intense planning and an attempt to not waste the space on the page while keeping your creative options open. She often unwinds with Netflix series (The Last Kingdom being a current favorite) and keeps movies like Die Hard, Lethal Weapon and Alien in the background to “write to” when the need arose.
Questions from the audience involved one about Liu’s feelings on violence. She often has to confront what it means when a story commits violence against women. What changes since many female characters never get the kind of complexity men can get, and that violence is a byproduct of this. Liu’s interest is to change this. She remarked that the popularity of horror films among women is their attempt to manage the threat of violence, which women face daily as a matter of living.
Another question was about why the protagonist of MONSTERESS, Maika, was designed to be unlikable. Liu thinks that it is a mistake to assume heroes should be likeable. Maika, was designed to have a horrible background and as a result, was not going to emerge without “issues.” It is not easy to write this!
The last question was a question about whether the family stories that inspired MONSTRESS would ever be told.
“I’m working on it.”